Digital technology

Analyzing how digital transformation affects children and advancing policy recommendations

Two girls playing with a smartphone.
UNICEF/UN0341448/Vas

The digital revolution is shaping children’s lives in profound ways. Children are early adopters and frequent users of the internet for communication, play, school work, access to information and expression. The digital world increasingly records children’s choices and actions. How can we maximize children’s well-being through the positive use of digital technologies while mitigating the risks of harm?

We analyse the impact of digital transformation and frontier technologies on children and develop recommendations and policy advice for governments and the private sector.

Artificial Intelligence

From social media face filters to content recommendations to language translation apps, children are already using digital tools that utilize Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems. The impact of these systems on children provoke both hopes and concerns. Strategies and ethical guidelines from government, non-profit and private sector organizations dedicate little attention to children. And translating policies and guidance into action remains a global challenge.

Since children make up one-third of all online users, the need for AI strategies, policies and guidelines to protect child rights has never been greater.

How do we ensure that children’s development is prioritized in AI policies and implementation?

We are working with the Government of Finland on a two-year project to begin to answer this question. Together we are developing policy guidance for governments and businesses to support the safe and beneficial use of AI systems for children’s development. Along this journey we are collaborating with the IEEE Standards Association, the Berkman Klein Centre for Internet and Society, 5Rights Foundation, the World Economic Forum and other organizations that form part of Generation AI.

Digital literacy

Internet users need to have the capabilities to make the most of the opportunities that come from digital technology and the internet. This is especially true for children as an increasing number of activities moves online, yet children also face particular risks when they’re connected. Instilling such capabilities in children is critical for life in the 21st century: to have access to educational and social resources; to safely play online; to develop online identities and participate in digital civic engagement; to utilize community and government services; and to succeed in the digital economy.

Investing in children's digital literacy means building more responsible, employable and tolerant future world citizens. We have undertaken a scoping study to better understand digital literacy for children and how UNICEF can support the development of digital literacy and skills.

Investing in children's digital literacy means building more responsible, employable and tolerant future world citizens. We have undertaken a scoping study to better understand digital literacy for children specifically. The study helps identify how UNICEF can support the development of digital literacy and skills, and maps what UNICEF is currently doing in this area. It offers a definition of digital literacy for children and points to digital literacy frameworks that can guide our programs.

Digital civic participation of young people

Amidst the digital transformation of public and private spaces, child and adolescent participation looks considerably different today. Online, adolescents have more access to networked social movements through decentralized digital communication and messaging. Young people can also mobilize for issue-oriented activism quickly and effectively through digital social platforms. Digital tools may therefore provide a new ‘ladder of citizen participation’ for young people. However, issues around child civic participation in the digital space abound. Do all children and adolescents have opportunities to engage? Do they have necessary digital and civic skills? Do they trust the internet as a platform for civic engagement? Is their right to privacy respected? Are they protected from harm?

To better understand the different types of youth digital civic participation and their opportunities and challenges, we are gathering evidence and identifying areas in which UNICEF can offer support to ensure child rights are promoted and protected.

Digital tools may provide a new ‘ladder of citizen participation’ for young people.